Feb 22, 2022
If you’re listening to this episode at the time of release, we’re three days past a momentous anniversary in United States history - and one that you may have never heard of. On February 19th, 1942, 80 years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 into law. This was the law that effectively incarcerated over 120,000 American citizens on US soil during World War II. Their offense? Being ethnically Japanese.
Think about your own ethnic heritage. Where were your ancestors from, before they came to America? Then imagine, that country does something against America, and your government rounds you up, strips you of most of your possessions, and throws you into an incarceration camp for years. Some kids who grew up there didn’t even realize they were still on US soil, wondering, when can we go back to America?
And that’s the title of the book, When Can We Go Back to America? written by Susan Kamei whom we are speaking with today. In it, she pulled together history, and strikingly, many, many first-person narratives that illuminate this horrific period in American history - one period that isn’t taught or, if it’s taught, taught well in our country. But it’s a storyline that we need to be well aware of if we don’t want our country to repeat these atrocities again. Because we’ve come close. And we may be close yet again.
What to listen for:
If you want to hear more about life in and after the internment camps, listen to Episode 138 of Dear White Women: Who Do We Call Americans? With John Tateishi by clicking here
If you want to read more Asian American narratives with your children:
ABOUT THE BOOK:
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which put in motion the forced removal of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast and their detention in desolate interior locations for the duration of World War II. Approximately 120,000 men, women, and children were detained in hastily constructed government facilities rimmed with barbed wire and armed guards. Two-thirds of those incarcerated were American-born citizens. The US government justified wresting the Japanese Americans from their homes, educations, and livelihoods under extreme duress and imprisoning them as a “military necessity.” From the elderly to babies, all those with even “a drop of Japanese blood” were presumed to be disloyal and potential saboteurs, simply because they shared the race of a wartime enemy.
Through first-person accounts of individuals who lived through this harrowing time as young people, When Can We Go Back to America? delves into the real reasons for the incarceration and reveals the falseness of the “military necessity” narrative that has been perpetuated in the decades since World War II. Their stories tell of the profound consequences that the incarceration had on their lives and of the long-term social, economic, and psychological harm they have suffered as a result of the government’s unconstitutional actions. Yet their voices and biographies also share moving accounts of their resilience, bravery, and enduring belief in democratic principles. They speak to us over the passage of time to provide perspective on issues of racial identity, immigration, and the meaning of citizenship today
SUSAN H. KAMEI is the granddaughter of Japanese immigrants. Her maternal grandparents were part of the Japanese classical music community in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, and her paternal grandparents were vegetable farmers in Orange County.
During World War II, her mother and her parents were incarcerated at the Santa Anita Assembly Center in Arcadia, California, and at the War Relocation Authority camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. Her father, together with his grandparents, parents, and siblings, were detained at the WRA camp known as Poston II in Arizona.
Susan graduated from the University of California, Irvine with B.A. degrees in Russian and Linguistics, summa cum laude, and received her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center, where she was an editor of the Georgetown law journal Law and Policy in International Business.
From the time she was in law school in Washington, DC and while she practiced corporate law, Susan was a member of the legislative strategy team for the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in the successful passage of federal legislation that provided redress to Japanese Americans for their wartime incarceration. She has been recognized for her service in the redress campaign, which included volunteering as National Deputy Legal Counsel for the JACL Legislative Education Committee.
She now teaches undergraduate students at the University of Southern California (USC) in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences about the constitutional, historical, and political issues of Japanese American incarceration and the importance of those issues today. She also serves as the managing director of the USC Spatial Sciences Institute.
For her contributions to the USC community and for enriching the educations of students of color and LGBTQ students, she received the 2018 USC Undergraduate Student Government Community Achievement Award. She also was recognized for her leadership and service in business, academia, and the community with the “Woman of Courage” Award in 2000 from the Friends of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women.